12 Sep Great Techniques for Remembering Chinese Language Tones
You might be asking what is a “tone”? How does it tie in with Chine language characters? While there are certain tones in other languages, including English, Chinese is even more tonal. This means that while tones in English stress a word to change the overall meaning of a sentence, in Chinese, changing the tone could mean something else.
Chinese has four tones, starting from a long, high pitch (1), moving to an increasing pitch (2), doing a complete U by lowering a pitch at first and then increasing it again (3) and, finally, simply reducing the pitch (4).
Most of the Chinese words are made up of more than one syllable; hence, each word uses more than one tone. While all this sounds difficult, its just a matter of getting used to it, and the best way to learn the Chinese language is by practising.
Many times, context is on your side, and even though you may mess up the tone, replacing “mother” with “horse”, it will sense to the listener that you are actually talking about the former. However, in some sentences, the difference may not be so apparent, so you may need to be more discerning.
The first technique is not to let context help you in saying what you want to say. Always learn the tone of words first before moving on the learning a lot of vocabulary. This way, you can be sure of what you’re saying is accurate.
The shortcut to learning words first and tones later seem like the easy way out, but it gets harder to learn about tones when there are too many words you know but don’t know how to pronounce them.
To learn the tones, it is a good idea to practice with the tones. As explained, earlier, the tones are based on changes in the pitch. The change is easy to carry out with characters that are a single tone; however, it may get slightly complicated for beginners when two tones are used in the same sentence. This is a good thing, however, as it simply means that you have to practice the tones in a combination of others to learn them well.
You can start by using tones in pairs with the first and fourth tones being one of the easier pairs to learn. The second and third in a pair is slightly more advanced but easy enough to get used to with practice. You may then move on to words that have three or even more tones.
Using the four tones and a neutral tone, you can have at maximum 20 combinations of tones in a two-syllable word. Once you have practised these combinations well enough, you’ll note that the tones come very naturally and you would be able to speak the right word and mean what you actually wanted to!
As you may be noticing, it is mostly about memorisation and retention of what tone to use when. You can use this pattern to your favour and use tools to memorise the tones for each word. These tools can be visual aids, such as colour coding text. While reading out a Chinese text, highlight each syllable with a different tone to a certain colour. You can then use this colour as a guide to how to pronounce the syllable.
Alternatively, you can use the tones in a really concentrated way. That means you exaggerate the tones while learning so that you remember them easily when speaking with someone in a real conversation.
While Chinese is thought as being hard to speak, the difficulty is in the language itself; only to remember the tones. Even when you aren’t able to retain the tone correctly, context and what you said in the previous sentences would help you convey your message. So, if you ever wish to learn business Chinese for your career in Singapore or overseas, then it is highly recommended to find a Chinese language course here in Singapore!